Remodeling the House of Science

Imagine the life of a young scientist. Responsibilities range from setting up a new lab and conducting research to teaching courses — often for the first time — and publishing to avoid ‘perishing.’ All of that at a time when the increasingly global and interdisciplinary nature of science is presenting its own challenges. These demands often lead to a work-life imbalance, not to mention emotional issues, like imposter syndrome and stereotype threat, if that young scientist also happens to be a woman or a minority. 

But how can young researchers build a better future for themselves if they are already overwhelmed, inhabit the bottom rungs of a hierarchical system and lack the training they need to remodel science into a healthier, more inclusive institution?

The answer is collective leadership.

That’s according to organizers of the Young Researchers Leadership Workshop held in Budapest in November in conjunction with the World Science Forum. The workshop, which was facilitated by members of KI’s Inclusive Innovation team, brought together young researchers from around the world from fields as disparate as physics and invertebrate zoology.

“On paper, they don’t have a lot in common. But, they’re all at similar stages in their career,” says Peter McGrath, Ph.D., Coordinator for the Interacademy Partnership (IAP). “Our goals were to recognize emerging scientists, give them the skills to lead creatively in a difficult environment and give them an opportunity to engage in high-level science with science policy makers.”

Photo: Interacademy Partnership

The IAP is an umbrella organization established in 2016 that brought together three established networks of academies of science, medicine and engineering. It co-sponsored the event with the Global Young Academy (GYA), an organization which seeks to give voice to early career scientists.

Connie Nshemereirwe, Ph.D., is GYA’s Co-Chair. She says the workshop aimed to give participants the tools they need to become global leaders of tomorrow. “We hope to enable Young Scientists to act collectively in responding to scientific issues of global concern, and in order to do this they need to be able to transcend national, cultural and disciplinary boundaries.” 

Nshemereirwe also says these workshops give young researchers the opportunity to “experience what such transcendence might look and feel like, and encourage them to act similarly in the future.”

Photo: Global Young Academy

Apparently, this group decided the future is now. On their own, they decided to write up what they developed during the 1.5 day workshop: a blueprint for systemic change in the sciences. These changes include a shift from hierarchies towards collective leadership — something they exemplified in coming together to publish SOS Booklet for Global Young Scholars: Facing the Scientific and Ethical Challenges of the Modern Age.

It’s amazing how one short workshop can result in so many ideas and plans,” says Biljana Gjoneska, a Research Associate at the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts whose work spans the fields of medicine, social neuroscience and psychology. She studies neurological and behavioral correlates of trust in leaders.

Gjoneska says the purpose of the booklet is to unify the thoughts and voices of  emerging leaders on the urgent challenges in ethics and science, as well as the roles and responsibilities of global young scholars. “This is an attempt to lead by example, to inspire many fellow young scientists and instigate positive changes in society.” The group is now working on submitting this call-to-action for publication in an international, peer-reviewed journal as a letter addressed to the broader scientific community.

Tozama Qwebani-Ogunleye, Ph.D., a fellow workshop participant and a member of the South African Young Academy of Science, says the skills the workshop offered were exactly what leaders of today need. “We are in an era of collective leadership,” says Qwebani-Ogunleye, who is the Project Manager of the Institute of Traditional Knowledge and Traditional Medicine – Dihlare, at the Vaal University of Technology, in South Africa where she is in the faculty of Applied and Computer Sciences. Her research focuses on the authentication of traditional medicines.

“Collective leadership promotes collaboration in order to drive positive change,” Qwebani says.

During the workshop, the participants identified six major areas that they would like to impact in a positive way as a group, as well as individually in their home institutions and countries. These are: 

  • Bridging the gap between science and society
  • Enabling self-care in young researchers
  • Encouraging the publication of guidelines for ethical research practices
  • Making the funding of science more equitable for young researchers
  • Making science more inclusive
  • Cultivating young collective leaders

Qwebani-Ogunleye says she is looking forward to reconnecting with her fellow workshop participants in 2021 when the World Science Forum will be held in her home country. “It will be a time to reflect, engage, empower, and share about the progress and great strides since the last time we met.”